I remember having an integrated amp when I started college; a bunch of my friends had them too. There really were no high-end integrated amps then, so Yamaha and Denon were especially coveted names. Integrateds were relatively cheap, even for college kids, and had plenty of power, which is what we wanted. I was sort of ahead of my time then because I lusted after separates, but now that I have separates and a special room in which to house them, I often think how easy life would be if I just had fewer components and some space back.
Nowadays, the high-end landscape is littered with integrated amps from just about every major and minor company, so finding a unit that sounds good isnt a problem. Over the last year or so Ive reviewed various tube and solid-state models ranging in price from $400 to $5200. All had their merits and would blow the doors off the 70Wpc integrated I had in college. Probably the most hotly contested price point for integrated amps is around $1000, and this is the neighborhood in which the $1195 Linn Majik lives.
Linn is one of those companies. It makes phono cartridges to speakers -- and everything in between. Given this, its not surprising that the Linn Majik integrated amp seems so, well, integrated. It comes in a petite package and weighs a mere 11 pounds, with a clean, classic look and remote control. Its not the product of guesswork, instead boasting features that belie its reasonable price.
The front panel of the Majik is understated -- no knobs and only a small LED readout that displays input or volume information for only a few moments before a row of dashes (--) appears. (The display can be adjusted to operate at all times too.) Its row of flat buttons, next to which is the Majiks headphone jack, are flush with the faceplate and hardly noticeable. They control input selection (via microprocessor), volume, mute and the Majiks tape loop. All of these functions are duplicated on the remote control that comes with the Majik, which also controls other Linn components including the various Linn CD players. Inside, Linn has relied on "ultra-short signal paths to preserve music signal integrity." Power output is quoted as 33Wpc into an 8-ohm load, and my ears tell me that this is an accurate appraisal. The Majik can play loudly in a smallish room like my office, but it wont bring the house down with its sheer power.
Inputs are via gold-plated RCA jacks; theres also an IEC power-cord receptacle as well as two sets of BFA (British Federation of Audio) speaker connectors, which unlike those that Arcam uses do not allow you to connect speaker cables terminated in spades, pins or banana plugs easily or at all. Instead, you pretty much have to re-terminate your speaker cables with the supplied BFA plugs, which are gold-plated and very nice but also add a layer of hassle that some people may want to bypass. Two special connections on the back are marked Pre Out, for using the Majik as a preamp or for biamping with a Linn power amp, and Power In, for using the Majik as strictly a power amp with no switching or volume functions.
A separate version of the Majik is available with an internal phono stage for $1345, $150 more than the line-stage-only version; tuner and multi-room modules are also available and can be added to either version of the Majik.
I listened to the Majik in my budget reference system: Merlin TSM-SE speakers, JPS Labs Ultra Conductor or DH Labs Silver Sonic cables, and a Panasonic SL-S321C portable CD player as source (and a fine one it is). I used the Majik initially with its own power cord, but I preferred in the end an API Power Link, which added a touch of welcome body and blackness to the presentation and is not outrageously priced at $169.
Listening to the Majik
The Majik is the second Linn product that we at SoundStage! have reviewed. The first was the Mimik CD player, which Jeff Fritz wrote about in the context of his reference-level system, noting that its qualities were "decidedly un-digital." At the point where that review came in, I was in the midst of listening to the Majik; I was surprised to discover that much of what Jeff observed about the Mimik was what I was hearing with the Majik. Huh? Of course, an integrated amp is very different from a CD player, but darned if the Majik didnt sound like what I was reading about the Mimik anyway.
So the first place to begin is with Jeffs overall assessment and how it applies to the Majik. Over time Ive heard more than a few pieces of Linn equipment and they have all exhibited a distinct sonic signature, one that seemingly draws from the companys most successful product, the Sondek LP12 turntable. The Majik is no exception. It has the tonal grace and purity that Linn equipment is famous for along with a lack of harsh, hard or transistory sound. You wont mistake it for a piece of tube equipment -- there is no overt warmth and certainly no plumpness that some tube equipment can exhibit. Instead, the Majik is tonally cool, even thin by some standards, and this is coupled with an intrinsic friendliness. Its poised and proper.
An example. One disc Ive been playing habitually for the past few months is the MoFi remaster of Squeezes East Side Story [UDCD 739]. MoFi has done a great remastering job here, taking a recording that was diffuse and drab and digging the music out of its master tape. Played over the Majik, "Labeled with Love," my favorite cut on the disc, is slightly more lean than it is on my reference setup, but it is just as resolved. "Messed Around" has about the same amount of natural reverb and space as when played on the reference system, but it is not quite as present (it more than any cut on East Side Story is rather distant). The point here is that the Linn Majik can play with the big boys, offering sound that is not lacking in refinement or delicacy, even when compared to that of mega-expensive tube equipment.
Soundstaging is worth mentioning because of the characteristic way the Majik does it. The perspective is laid-back, ten rows back instead of two, but just as you experience at a live event, the performers are very rooted in their space. Therefore it is obvious that the Majik has exemplary clarity -- though not exaggerated -- and focuses in on individual performers well, although image outlines are not as distinctly rendered as you will encounter. I can hear far back into the soundstage without straining, but unlike much inexpensive solid-state equipment that also offers this, there is no aggression at the other end, the sound remaining smooth and amiable. I know that other integrated amps will probably resolve even better, but the Majik walks the line between being overly resolving and not resolving enough exceedingly well.
In terms of its tonal accuracy, the Majik is exceptional. Its not too dark or light-filled, too sweet or whitish, and so it portrays individual instruments with a deft balance of attack and decay, body and overtone. Classic tube fans will think the Majik too thin while solid-staters may find it too forgiving. I find its way of portraying instruments and singers to be just about right, although I will concede that its at its best with acoustic music and small-scale jazz, in which case the often tasteful miking maximizes immediacy and involvement. Ive listened to Danilo Perezs Panamonk [Impulse! IMPD-190], a longtime favorite, with the Majik a few times and have been consistently surprised by the sound of the piano. Its attack, duration, and decay are exemplary, but its tone is as clear as Ive heard it. The songs are fiery in spots, languid and cerebral in others, and the Majik conveys it all very well, never sounding too much of any sonic trait.
The bass of the Majik is communicative, but it's not driving. The Majik's overall composure translates to its low frequencies too, where there is no obvious expression of weight or depth. If you want an integrated amp to kick butt down low, there are models like the Onix A-60 that will appease you. But what you wont get from the A-60 is the overall refinement of the Majik -- or anything close to it. However, I also dont want to give the impression that the bass of the Majik is obviously lacking. Its not; once again, its in line with the rest of its sound, which isnt showy. This may be a function of the Majiks 33Wpc rating -- it may not have the power to pump out the low frequencies. In fact, if the Majik did have incredible punch down low, I suspect that Linn wouldnt be selling very many of its dedicated preamp/power amp combos because the Majik would do darn near everything.
I guess more than anything the Linn Majik is an engaging piece of equipment. I know this doesnt convey much about the nature of the sound it produces, but I hope it does let you know how complexly involving it is. Its in the proportions of its traits that the Majik really shines -- balancing sweetness and resolution, soundstaging and perspective, tonality and presence better than a sub-$1200 integrated amp should. Im not sure I would have immediately appreciated the Majik when I was in college -- brute power is what impressed me in those days. But nowadays my tastes lean toward components that seduce instead of overwhelm, and in this regard the Linn Majik is a real honey.
Compare and contrast
One integrated amp that is in the same price range as the Majik and equally worthy of your consideration is the Audio Analogue Puccini SE (also $1195), which is a bit dark-sounding and more full overall, rather like an EL34-based tube amp. Its midrange is present and palpable, another tube trait, but it also has noticeable bass drive and weight. All of these things make for a very involving integrated amp to my ears, but I am predisposed to the Puccini SEs brand of sound to begin with, especially when coupled with the detailed and honest sound of the Merlin TSM-SE speakers, which are better paired with your average tube amp than solid-state amp.
Thus, given what Ive said about the Majik, you can almost create the list of differences between it and the Puccini SE yourself. The Majik is more spry and nimble, thinner in tone and without as much body. It is just as smooth, much more tonally light, and makes the Puccini SE sound a little colored in comparison. The Puccini SE has more bass weight -- much more -- but the Majik resolves better. Both sing with the Merlin TSM-SEs; I suspect that the Linn would be a good match with, say, Vandersteen 1Cs, whereas the Puccini SE would be my choice with a pair of Thiel CS.5s. The Puccini SE offers more power, 50Wpc, and a phono stage, while the Linn has better ergonomics and a remote control.
Which would I choose? Good question -- and one to which I dont have an answer. With the Merlin TSM-SEs, either is a fine choice, even as different as they are, because they are about finesse rather than butt-kicking power. The Merlins respond especially well to a gentle touch because of how resolving they are, and with the Linn Majik instead of the Puccini they trade some fullness and presence for enhanced tonality and airiness.
What the Majik may lack in physical size it makes up for with its sound quality. It is one of the finest integrated amps Ive heard, and that it costs less than $1200 is only icing on the cake. Its sound is eminently pleasant and involving, although some listeners may prefer a more brutish and lush brew. I find that the Majik walks the line between these two camps, and a good many others, admirably, and it has some characteristics -- like its unaggressive clarity -- that you can pay a lot more money for.
The ideal buyer for a Linn Majik is someone who values the middle of the road more than either of the shoulders and enjoys music far more than equipment. Its a no-fuss package -- except for those darn BFA connectors -- thats easy to use and listen to. The Majik is an impressive package, small as it is, and one you should definitely hear if its in your price range.
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